The Workers at this Border City Keep on Fighting
By Gloria Muñoz Ramírez
September 27, 2006
Thousands of people, the majority women, suffer so much exploitation everyday at the border that it has elements of human slavery. In the industrial park of Otay, one of the biggest in Tijuana, one can see food stands, groups of men and women, many of them young, and several buses, which transport the worker women wearing their ragged uniforms, waiting for their shift to start. They cannot waste a single minute. All of them, from the time the wake up until they go to bed exhausted, work in one of the more than eight hundred maquiladoras (sweatshops) that the huge transnational companies have built here since 1965, the year when the Border Industrialization Program was launched.
The workers come from different states in México, mainly from Puebla, Oaxaca, Chiapas, Guerrero, Michoacán and Hidalgo (it is estimated that eighty percent come from other parts of México, while twenty percent come from the city of Tijuana and neighboring towns). They face ten hour shifts everyday, and in some companies, such as the multinational company Sony, the shifts are 12 hours, with half-hour breaks for lunch and a half hour-break for dinner. Here, there are no eight-hour shifts as the Constitution dictates.
The average salary in these ignominious centers is 750 pesos per week (less than $70 dollars), a ridiculous pay in one of the most expensive areas of the country, where the minimum rent is 1,500. To this expense, they need to add transportation, food, clothing, education and healthcare expenses for their families.
Margarita suffered humiliation and exploitation in five maquiladoras. She came from Puebla, where she worked in the countryside and then as a domestic worker before she moved to Tijuana looking for a better life. With more than five years of hard work, occasionally taking shifts up to twenty-four hours, she endured low salaries, poor working conditions, long shifts, discrimination, exposure to toxic substances, illegal contracts of one, two and three months, pregnancy tests (also illegal), irrational punishments for being one minute late and an unending list of daily offenses.
There have been many struggles here led by the working class. “We’ve given them two or three good punches,” says Jaime Cota, a social activist, former maquiladora worker and, since, 1991 defender and counsel to the workers in the legal processes they face.
Today, the organized movement is smaller, but there is always a group of workers who, tired of so many injustices, start getting to know their rights, organizing, and, more importantly, they start envisioning a different life, a more dignified one. To support them in their organizing to demand their labor rights, you can go to El Centro de Información Para Trabajadores y Trabajadoras or send an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in Spanish in Muñoz’ “Underdogs” column of September 23 in La Jornada
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